New images confirm Russia's military deployment of an unusual armored fighting vehicle to the Donbas in Ukraine.
This is a Russian tank-support fighting vehicle (BMPT), photographed during drills in 2017. Dubbed "Terminators" by their manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, the vehicles received a flood of media attention in late May after being sighted in Ukraine.
The above photo and two recent amateur videos reportedly show the presence of Russian Terminators around the eastern Ukrainian town of Severodonetsk. The presence of the vehicles in Ukraine was apparently confirmed on May 18 by a report in Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.
Terminators are the result of Russia's quest to develop vehicles designed for fighting in tight urban spaces. That need became urgent after the first Chechen war in which massive numbers of Russian armored vehicles were wiped out by Chechen fighters.
During the 1994-95 battle for the Chechen capital, Grozny, local fighters were able to lean out of windows and doorways to fire cheap anti-tank rocket grenades, then disappear into familiar territory. The firepower of Russian tanks was nullified by their inability to shoot steeply upwards or tilt their cannons low enough to kill Chechen fighters who sometimes lurked in basements waiting for the Russian armor.
Modern military tactics hold that tanks in urban battlefields work alongside troops on foot. The infantry escort provides eyes and ears for the tank crew and can instantly engage enemy fighters from any direction, while the tank provides reliable cover from small-arms fire for the troops.
Russia's Terminators are intended to fight in urban environments alongside tanks, replacing that need for supporting infantry. It is unclear whether Terminator crews locked inside heavy armor would be able to match the situational awareness of troops in the open.
The Terminators are armed with twin autocannons (top center of this photo) each capable of firing more than 10 30mm rounds per second. The guns can be loaded with multiple different shells, meaning the gunner can fire hardened armor-piercing rounds from one barrel, then immediately switch to shooting explosive rounds from the other gun, or shoot both at once.
The fighting vehicles also carry guided missiles (on either side of the cannons in this photo) and a machine gun. The version of the BMPT seen here features two grenade launchers (one is seen at lower left).
At least two distinct versions of the Terminators currently exist. One model is fitted with twin grenade launchers and holds a crew of five, the other requires a crew of only three and operates without grenade launchers. The terminators spotted in Ukraine appear to have the grenade launchers in place.
Russia's BMPTs are also fitted with armor that explodes outwards when hit with a projectile, neutralizing some anti-tank grenades. Other defensive measures include slat armor -- the metal grille seen in the above photo that can disrupt the piercing power of some anti-tank weapons. At least one Russian tank with similarly modern reactive armor was destroyed during fighting in Ukraine.
It is unknown how many Terminators Russia currently has in service but in late 2021 Russia added 10 to a tank regiment of its Central Military District.
Some Western analysts say the deployment of several of the rare fighting vehicles is a sign of "frustration" from the Kremlin, while Russian commentators have applauded their use as an example of the depth of Russia's arsenal.
Either way, the presence of Terminators in the Donbas, where advanced anti-tank weaponry awaits the Russian advance, is certainly a gamble. The Russian military's carefully crafted image of "invincibility" would take a further beating if the Terminators fare poorly in Ukraine.